REVIEW: Toy Story 3 [2010]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: G | Runtime: 103 minutes | Release Date: June 18th, 2010 (USA)
Studio: Pixar Animation Studios / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Director(s): Lee Unkrich
Writer(s): Michael Arndt / John Lasseter & Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich (story)

“Let’s go see how much we’re going for on eBay”

After ten cherished films filled with heart, soul, and comedy, Pixar finally made their first cash grab. That fact is not necessarily a bad thing since anything they touch, no matter how forced a project it may be, is still pure gold, if not certified platinum. But, when I left the theatre after viewing Toy Story 3, I couldn’t shake the feeling that even though I laughed hard, the resonating warmth of humanity and spirit was lacking. The film’s end definitely attempts to amp the heartstring tugging a little too late, becoming more a contrived footnote trying too hard to make it look as though it was there all along. It never earned its desire to render the audience teary-eyed as all before it have. Looking back, though, I realized that perhaps we put the animation studio on too high a pedestal, spoiled by their greatness and accepting nothing less. That said, you can’t ask for a better second sequel to a series as it perfectly rounds out the trilogy and introduces more characters to make you cry in a different way—from laughter. Sometimes the old adage of ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ can be wrong; these newcomers at Sunnyside Day Care make the movie.

The plot continues logically from its predecessors, finding Andy at seventeen and ready to drive off to college, no longer having a need for toys. Like the others before it, Toy Story 3 begins with a wonderfully orchestrated fantasy sequence of action and adventure as the Roundup Gang and Buzz look to save a contingent of orphans (Troll dolls) on a speeding train to death at the plastic hands of Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head and their leader, the Evil Dr. Pork-chop (Hamm). It’s an intriguing set-up since previously we’d segue from it to young Andy on the floor acting everything out. Knowing he’s all grown-up, however, leaves you anticipating what it is you’re actually watching—a nicely fuzzed out and lo-fidelity videotape of the high school graduate, his mother reminiscing as she finds it hard to let go. These toys haven’t had a good ol’ playing with in years and are currently relegated to the toy box, at least those left. Hatching a plan to gauge the boy’s interest, Woody and the gang coerce Andy to open the box in search of his cell phone, needing to look them in the eye before shutting the lid. Shut it he does, seemingly devoid of any love he once had for them.

A decision is soon laid out that the boy has three boxes and a trash bag, either the group of childhood memories go with him to college, get donated to a day care center, go into the attic for storage, or become left at the curb for the garbage man, (who looks and acts eerily like old neighbor Sid). It’s a tough choice to make as Andy’s feelings haven’t changed—he did keep them when letting go of the rest after all—and even though he pulls out a bag, it is to lay them to rest upstairs, besides Woody of course, who makes it into the college box. But Andy’s Mom only sees a trash bag, taking them to the curb as their cowboy friend looks on. Feeling neglected, they escape in the nick of time, scurrying to the family car and the box of donations, unbelieving of Woody’s pleas to come back inside as Andy didn’t want to dispose of them. The trunk door closes before his convincing can work, though, and all are taken to Sunnyside’s Butterfly Room, a sanctuary for toys to be loved until the end of time. Except that’s not their final destination. While Woody leaves angrily to return to his owner, the rest stay to be ushered into the Caterpillar Room of toddlers; a land of drool, paint, and destruction.

The film is the first helmed by director Lee Unkrich alone, previously having collaborated with the better known of the Pixar bunch. He definitely has an eye for action and drama, handling the opening sequence with skill and epic scale, (loved the Barrel O’Monkeys swarm of red), and also the prison setting of Sunnyside, utilizing multiple rooms, the outside, hallways, and security cameras to really give the audience a handle on the environment and what needs to be done in order to escape. The installment is also the first in the series created specifically for 3D and it’s used just enough to add depth while not overpowering with gimmicky objects thrown forth. The technology is shown at its best, I think, when Buzz is eventually switched to Spanish mode, taking the heritage to heart by showing his Flamenco dance moves. The spinning and swooping camera angles capture the movements perfectly—I just wonder whether subtitles are a good move for an audience of young tikes barely able to read. Unkrich does the format justice as well as the large undertaking of maintaining order with a major influx of new characters inhabiting this world. It may be similar to Toy Story 2’s Toy Barn in that respect, except the periphery toys here are given much more to do.

All the returning toys retain their motivations and want of love, but while the rest are pragmatic enough to move on towards their future, Woody can’t shake his attachment to the boy he’s known forever. Tom Hanks excels in the role as usual, keeping his sense of humanity while stubbornly ignoring the cold hard facts of their situation. All the others retain their penchant for one-liner quips, Don Rickles and Estelle Harris’ Potato Heads standing out from the pack. And Tim Allen is once more given the role of multiple identities and therefore one of the funniest parts. His Buzz is best friend and second in command to Woody, a ruthless Spaceman Marshall doing the dirty work of Day Care Godfather Lotso Huggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty), and a romantically courageous Spaniard. Since he is relegated to factory defaults for the climax of the film, though, it is all Woody’s idea to orchestrate the prison break—an apt comparison due to the circumstances and shooting style of the escape. Buzz acts more out of reflex than brains to help when needed. But no matter what they are doing in the main plot thread, it’s newcomer Ken, played by Michael Keaton, who owns the show. His delivery and mannerisms are everything you’d expect from this purse with legs—read Barbie accessory—excelling beyond his comic relief existence.

Despite the friendship on display and the action-packed journey of Andy’s toys, this escape isn’t as much a return to their owner as it is to simply leave the tyranny of misguided toys. The screenwriters do their best to make it appear some morality lesson was at play, tying everything up in a dramatic conclusion of moving on, but that’s not what the movie is. Lotso may have been heartbroken in his past, changing him into a kingpin building up an army of heavies to keep the other toys in line, but he, as evidenced later on, no longer has the capability for good. He’s a villain by definition and therefore needs to be defeated by our protagonists. This good vs. evil plot is the center of the story, turning the Toy Story canon on its head and into a genre flick more than a children’s masterpiece. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if kids get scared at more than one point along the way. Between the in-depth look at a landfill’s methods of trash annihilation, the pitch-black void of emotion of Lotso, and the real possibility these toys may not survive, I really thought the filmmakers were capable of forgoing the usual feel-good end. But no matter how dark it gets, one cannot deny the abundance of laughs, making this the funniest Pixar film to date, despite being the most generic plot-wise. They are the masters, though, and great comedy is enough.

[1] (L-R) Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), Mr. Potato Head (voiced by Don Rickles), Slinky Dog (voiced by Blake Clark), Bullseye, Mrs. Potato Head (voiced by Estelle Harris), Rex (voiced by Wallace Shawn), Hamm (voiced by John Ratzenberger), Jessie (voiced by Joan Cusack), Aliens (voiced by Jeff Pidgeon) and Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen). ©Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.
[2] ‘TOY STORY 3′ (L-R) Mrs. Potato Head, Mr. Potato Head, Woody, Rex, Buzz Lightyear, Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear, Barbie, Ken. ©Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

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